Baird heading out on seven-country, Latin America trip

OTTAWA – Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird begins a two-week trip to Latin America today, where he’ll visit seven countries.

Baird’s office says he’ll visit Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil to meet with foreign ministers and business leaders.

The trip comes on the heels of questions about where Latin America ranks on the Harper government’s priority list.

In this month’s cabinet shuffle, Prime Minister Stephen Harper eliminated a junior minister portfolio that was responsible for relations with Latin America.

Critics and experts say the move signalled an end to the Harper government’s strategy of developing free-trade deals with big economies in the region.

But Baird said last week he’ll take the lead in Canada’s relations with Latin America and stressed that part of the world remains a priority for Canada.

Baird says his visit is proof of that.

Jean Daudelin, a Latin American affairs expert at Ottawa’s Carleton University, says the government has negotiated free trade with some nations in the region, and the ones it hasn’t reached deals with – like Brazil and Argentina – are not interested.

Baird points to agreements with Peru and Colombia as signs of the inroads Canada has made.